A win, obviously, and no other result. A goal, clearly, because you can’t win without scoring one. And a hero, or heroes, ready to seize the day and change their lives forever.
Football is all about great moments, when one individual provides a snapshot of inspiration that alters everything. Whoever he is for the US, it’s realistic to assume there could be things in his future, like a talk show appearance, a Wheaties cover, and an everlasting position as a beloved figure in American soccer circles.
landon donovan knows what it’s like to be the man of the hour, score the the most spectacular goal in US men’s soccer historya special discount time against Algeria in 2010 to secure a spot in the knockout round and avoid elimination.
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Now, as a FOX Sports World Cup analyst, Donovan walked us through a four-point plan for how any of the youngsters on Gregg Berhalter’s team can find their own slice of magic, and how to wield it if the opportunity arises.
It is not a foolproof model, because there is no such thing in the most competitive sports tournament.
Step 1: Pre-match balance to prepare for posterity
“The best part is you know you need to win,” Donovan told me. “That’s the ‘easy’ part, if there’s such a thing. Where there’s some ambiguity, and you need to worry about what’s going on somewhere else, that’s when it can get a bit more complicated.”
Things weren’t so clear cut for the US in 2010. Going into the game, there were still scenarios where a draw might be good enough to advance. When Jermain Defoe scored for England against Slovenia, the image became a little clearer. Victory was needed.
“In the (2022) situation, all of that goes out the window, worrying about someone else or something else,” Donovan said. “Here, there is nothing else to think about.”
Step 2: When the Going Gets Tough…America Must Step Up
In the 20th minute of the Algeria game, the USA had a Clint Dempsey goal disallowed for offside, which TV replays would show was an incorrect call. He left Donovan with an uneasy feeling that was hard to shake.
“It’s hard because you know that games like this are going to be determined by one or maybe two plays,” Donovan said. “That’s how it always seems to be. When one of those goes against you, it’s hard to handle.”
“You have to recover and keep playing the way the opportunity created. At the time, of course, we didn’t know for sure if it should have been a goal or not.”
Reset and refocus are easy instructions to give, somewhat more difficult to follow. So far in the tournament, the only real testing moment came when Gareth Bale equaled by Welsh in the 82nd minute. Berhalter’s group did not let the disappointment get to them unduly and finished strongly.
“The reality is there’s nothing you can do,” Donovan said. “Yo have to go ahead”.
Step 3: Tick-tock, how many minutes is on the clock?
One of the hardest parts of an elimination game is being able to play knowing that time is running out. If the game continues and there is still a deadlock, you can be sure Iran will do everything possible to disrupt the rhythm and slow down the game even more.
“You’re just in the game, it doesn’t consume you, but there’s human nature, and you literally look at the clock every minute,” Donovan said. “It’s just what you do. It’s not conscious.”
At this stage, don’t expect the game to look anything like it did at the beginning. There will be more risks, more improvisation from the American strikers.
“When we got to that point in 2010, our forward players were cheating on defense all the time, just staying upfield and taking our chances in transition,” Donovan continued. “What’s missing from that game is that our four defensemen, plus Michael Bradley and Tim Howard, were just amazing at keeping us in the game.
“That’s the part that people take their eyes off. Yes, you have to score. But your defense has to have a great game, otherwise the job becomes even more difficult.”
Step 4: The time has come, who will it be?
Thunderous blow from outside the area. A crushing header from a corner. A penalty without nerves. A loose ball that bounces around the box and goes into someone’s back.
Any of the above, the US would gladly accept. It doesn’t matter how you score; It only matters that you do. And, that when the opportunity falls on the player who decides the destiny, he is prepared for it.
“It’s going to come down to whoever makes a play,” Donovan said. “It’s your own instinct, the tactics and the game plan are practically obsolete at that point, when there are 15-20 minutes left.
“When the time comes, it’s almost automatic. Your legs are tired. You’ve given it your all, but you need to give more. Stay as calm as you can. Make the play. That’s all you’re trying to do.”
Donovan made the play. Picking up the ball from Howard with nearly 91 minutes left, he charged forward with determination. After Jozy Altidore crossed up the middle and Clint Dempsey’s shot was blocked, he raced forward to put the game-winner into the net.
It was simply unforgettable.
Adams joked this week that he hoped the US “won’t leave it so late” this time. How it happens, and when it happens, doesn’t matter. It just happens.
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Donovan thinks he will.
“They know they can beat Iran,” he said. “This is a game they can absolutely win. They won’t be intimidated. They shouldn’t be intimidated.”